SUN Hockey Pool

Close, but no Jagr for Oilers

Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr skates during the warmup prior to facing the Canadiens at the Bell...

Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr skates during the warmup prior to facing the Canadiens at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Que., Oct. 26, 2011. (BEN PELOSSE/QMI Agency)

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:26 AM ET

EDMONTON - The Edmonton Oilers once had Jaromir Jagr convinced coming to town was a good idea.

And according to the future Hall of Famer, only a promise to a team in Russia kept him out of an Oilers jersey.

“It was very close,” said Jagr on Wednesday. “Before I even went to Russia, I got an offer from Edmonton, but I had already made a promise to Omsk that I was going to go there.

“I was waiting for the Rangers (to make an offer), I didn’t want to change teams. I felt like I was too old to change teams. So I told the GM of the Omsk organization, that if I don’t sign with the Rangers, I promised them I was going to go sign with them.”

After the Rangers decided not to offer him a contract and before departing for Russia, Jagr was contacted by the Oilers about the possibility of playing in Edmonton.

The thought of playing on a young team alongside friend Ales Hemsky was appealing to the now Philadelphia Flyers winger. However, the offer came a couple of days too late.

“Edmonton called, but I didn’t want to break my promise,” Jagr said. “You know how it is, sometimes when you break a promise, it’s going to haunt you later.

“It was only a matter of days, only one or two days. I felt the interest from Kevin Lowe and the new owner. They had a good, young team, but it just didn’t happen.”

Once in Russia, Jagr figured he would conclude his career in Europe, having played 18 seasons in the NHL.

Yet, into his second year with Omsk, the idea of joining the Oilers came up again. It didn’t happen again and Jagr went on to play a third year in Russia before coming back to the NHL to join the Flyers this season.

Heading into Thursday’s game against the Oilers, Jagr, 40, had 16 goals and 26 assists for 42 points in 50 games.

“I’m glad I came back,” Jagr said. “I never thought I would come back when I made the decision to go to Europe. I’m glad I’m back, we have a pretty good team, I’m having a lot of fun with my teammates. It’s so far been good.”

With the Oilers going into full rebuild mode two seasons ago, the window to sign Jagr closed. It would make little sense for the former Hart Trophy winner and two-time Stanley Cup champion to join a non-contending team in the twilight of his career.

The biggest appeal of Edmonton to Jagr was Hemsky, whose days as a member of the Oilers may be coming to a close themselves.

“We’re supposed to go to dinner tonight,” Jagr smiled. “So hopefully they’re not going to trade him yet. He’s supposed to pay too. Lets see what happens.”

Hemsky is the final year of his contract. And while the Oilers would like to have the slick winger back next season, the deal has to be right for both sides.

It’s likely if a deal can’t be reached by Monday’s trade deadline, then the Oilers would move Hemsky to attain some assets, rather than take the chance of losing him without any form of compensation this summer.

“Gretzky got traded, so anybody can get traded,” Jagr said. “Whatever the management wants to do, they’re going to do it. It might be good for the team, it might even be good for him, I don’t know.

“You just never know. If a talented player like him goes to different team, he might get 100 points in a year, he’s that skilled. Sometimes staying in one place is not good for players. Maybe that’s what he needs, I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him about it, I’m not sure. I haven’t seen him play in the last three years. The last time we played together was in the World Championship three years ago.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

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